Friday 24 March 2017

Robert Fisk: Bashar al-Assad is not going anywhere ... and perhaps not for a long time

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meet in Damascus. Photo: Reuters
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Syria's President Bashar al-Assad meet in Damascus. Photo: Reuters
A wounded girl in Baba Amro, a neighbourhood of Homs. Photo: Reuters
Syrians outside a hospital, which activists say was hit in an early morning bombardment by regime forces, in Homs Photo: Getty Images
Amateur footage showing shelling in Homs. Photo: Getty Images
A man inspects an armoured military vehicle damaged during clashes near Khaldiyeh area in Homs. Photo: Reuters

PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad is not about to go. Not yet. Not, maybe, for quite a long time. Newspapers in the Middle East are filled with stories about whether or not this is Assad's "Benghazi moment" – these reports are almost invariably written from Washington or London or Paris – but few in the region understand how we Westerners can get it so wrong. The old saw has to be repeated and repeated: Egypt was not Tunisia; Bahrain was not Egypt; Yemen was not Bahrain; Libya was not Yemen. And Syria is very definitely not Libya.

It's not difficult to see how the opposite plays in the West. The barrage of horrifying Facebook images from Homs, and statements from the "Free Syrian Army", and the huffing of La Clinton and the amazement that Russia can be so blind to the suffering of Syrians – as if America was anything but blind to the suffering of Palestinians when, say, more than 1,300 were killed in Israel's onslaught on Gaza – doesn't gel with reality on the ground. Why should the Russians care about Homs? Did they care about the dead of Chechnya?



Look at it the other way round. Yes, we all know that Syria's intelligence service has committed human rights abuses. They did that in Lebanon. Yes, we all know this is a regime in Damascus, not an elected government. Yes, we all know about corruption. Yes, we watched the UN's humiliation at the weekend – although why La Clinton should expect the Russians to click their heels after the "no-fly zone" in Libya turned into "regime change" is a bit of a mystery.

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